Nakshatra Sain, a barber at Amarsinghwala village, 45 km from Hanumangarh town, had some unexpected guests on Thursday afternoon.
Minutes after he reached neighbouring village Suranwali, barely three km from his three-room unpainted house, a group of Congress workers approached him requesting to let his house open to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi for a quick shower.
Taken aback, Nakshatra and his wife sprinted back home to clean their washroom, rustle up a simple lunch of rotis and dal, and cleared out their little courtyard, borrowing a few plastic chairs from neighbours for the guests to sit. In the half-an-hour that Rahul, accompanied by Rajasthan Congress chief Sachin Pilot and state incharge Gurudas Kamat spent at Nakshatra’s place, the family was so overwhelmed that they could barely tell him about their land dispute and sundry other problems.
In the 9 km ‘padyatra’ that Rahul embarked upon amid a gathering of party workers and locals, several delegations from neighbouring villages approached him, appealing him to ‘fight’ for their water woes, rampant school closures and farming distress.
At Khothawali village, from where Rahul started his padyatra, farmers and villagers waited for him. Villagers from Bikaner sought his attention on drinking water shortage, students from neighbouring Kohla village complained about school merger due to which they had to drop out, tribals from Jalore and Pali said they were yet to get compensation following rampant loss to crops due to unseasonal rain and hailstorm and teachers and safai karamcharis talked of their problems. Local farmers complained about urea shortage, polluted water from the Punjab canal and waterlogging affecting 40,000 hectares and 1 lakh families.
“Though there are three-and-a-half years to the next elections, we have come. Not to promise that we will work for you if you help us win, but to promise that come what may we will work for you… We will fight for your rights,” Rahul told them. Braving the sweltering heat, Rahul set out on foot, flanked by Sachin Pilot and Leader of Opposition in Rajasthan assembly Rameshwar Dudi and trailed by former chief minister Ashok Gehlot and a crowd of Congress workers waving party flags.
At Suranwali village, Rahul addressed another gathering. “We have always said that ours is a party for the poor, marginalised and neglected. I am making this clear to all party workers that only those who will be seen on the field sweating it out will get to contest the next polls. So for the next three- and-a-half years just work for those suffering,” he said.
Rahul also stepped up attack on PM Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje on the Lalit Modi controversy and the corruption charges against the BJP governments. “Now there is the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh, paddy scam in Chhattisgarh, (Pankaja) Munde scam in Maharashtra. Rajasthan CM, External Affairs Minister all supported a fugitive. But now the PM is just not saying anything… This is the same person who had once said ‘Na khaunga, na khaane dunga’. Now what happened? The Raje government has changed the meaning of PPP. It has now become private-private-partnership. There is no public in it. But we won’t let them close down schools and hospitals just like that. That is a promise.”
Later, Rahul returned to Nakshatra’s house for a meal of roti, dal and tea.